What Are Jelly Sandals?

Fashion trends always seem to make a resurgence, whether it is tiny sunglasses, fuzzy shoes, or mom jeans. However, one of the more unexpected comebacks has to be the jelly sandal. Once overwhelmingly popular in the 90s, this style of footwear in all its seemingly elementary glory has managed to endure the test of time and are now being worn by both children and women. If you are not too sure of what they are or simply need a refresher, read on for a more detailed exploration of this unexpected fashion trend.

What are jelly sandals? A jelly sandal is a style of footwear that is made of PVC plastic. Jelly sandals come in a wide variety of colors and brands, and the material is often infused with glitter.

The name of this footwear style is a reference to the semi-transparent material that has a jelly-like sheen. The upper of the jelly sandal features several straps that hold the sandal to the foot as well as a heel strap that may or may not have a buckle. There are varieties of this style of footwear that feature a block heel for those that want to elevate their height. Despite their resurgence in popularity, jelly sandals have been known to inflict blisters on the wearer’s feet due to the straps rubbing against them. Because they are made of plastic, they are not very breathable, and sweat and odor can build as a result.

Jelly sandals have somehow managed the almost impossible feat of resurging in popularity after falling off everyone’s radar for more than a decade. Here is a look at the various aspects of this style of footwear.

A brief history of jelly sandals

In the 1980s, jelly sandals were immensely popular to the extent that you would often find a pair being sold for less than $1. Like with a majority of other fashion fads from the 80s, jelly sandals have seen a resurgence in their popularity since the late 1990s. Although they were categorized as populist footwear in the 1980s, the jelly sandal has been widely reinterpreted by a variety of well-known and respected fashion designers in the twenty-first century.

Although the particular origins of jelly sandals are not easy to pinpoint, an explanation that is frequently offered is that they were constructed by a shoemaker who was based in France after the Second World War during which there was an acute shortage of leather in Europe.

Another theory claims that jelly sandals were first designed in the late 1950s or early 1960s when many fashion designers began using plastic more frequently as a material for footwear. Brown and black t-bar sandals were popularly worn by school-going boys and girls in Australia sometime in the 50s and 60s. Grendene Shoes, a shoe company based in Brazil, claims to have helped popularize jelly sandals in the US in 1982, although they had been mentioned in a New York Times article 2 years prior.

In 1981, Preston Haag Sr., a former bank president, was at a reception in Brazil when he took note of the bright footwear that a majority of the young women wore. Upon inquiring about them and finding out that they were manufactured by Grendene, he struck a deal with the company to distribute the plastic sandals all over the southeastern US. Consequently, the footwear was introduced to the US during the 1982 World’s Fair with the help of a company called Grendha. Although they proved to be popular after the initial introduction, they became a nationwide phenomenon, at least according to Haag, in 1983 after Bloomingdales stocked up 2,400 pairs of the footwear in nine styles.

The pros of jelly sandals

1. They are easy to clean

Jelly sandals are incredibly easy to clean. There are several different household items that you can use for cleaning this style of footwear:

  • Laundry detergent – To get rid of mud stains and debris, all you need is some water, laundry detergent, and a washcloth. Avoid using bleach as it tends to eat away at the material of the sandal.
  • Magic eraser – If there are scuff marks on your jelly sandal, use a magic eraser to rub them off.
  • Apple cider vinegar – Mix a bit of apple cider vinegar and water and use the solution to give your jelly sandals a good scrub with a sponge.
  • Baking soda – Baking soda is a great cleaning agent as it also effectively kills odor-causing bacteria. Combine some baking soda and water and mix to get a paste-like consistency and then use a sponge to scrub the sandals.

2. They come in a variety of designs

There is a wide variety of jelly sandal designs to choose from:

  • Heeled vs. flats – Heeled jelly sandals have a thick block heel whereas flats lack one.
  • Closed-toe vs. sliders – The closed-toe design is the most common for this style of footwear. The upper of a closed-toe jelly sandal features an open upper with straps that are slightly interspaced with no mechanism for adjustment. This design is meant to allow water to drain out of the sandals easily when they get wet as well as to allow air into the footwear. The sandal is held to the foot of the wearer by a strap which goes behind the ankle and may be adjustable.

On the other hand, slider jelly sandals are more simplistic, with the upper consisting of two or more straps under which you are meant to insert your foot.

2. They are a viable alternative for vegans

Since they are entirely made of PVC plastic, jelly sandals are a great option for those who want to avoid footwear that is made of leather at all costs.

3. They are easy to wear

These sandals have a relatively uncomplicated design, which makes them easy to slip on and off your feet.

The downsides of wearing jelly sandals

Despite being re-introduced in the modern fashion world, jelly sandals can be quite problematic. Here are some reasons why:

  • They can cause blisters – The straps of this style of footwear are made of PVC plastic, a material that can be very hard on the skin. As a result, walking in your jelly sandals subjects the upper part of your feet to constant rubbing and friction which will consequently lead to the development of painful blisters in the affected areas.

Sometimes these blisters will pop, which means that you will be left with open wounds on your feet. Since a jelly sandal features openings on its upper, you could be vulnerable to bacterial and viral infections from pathogens that you could pick up as a result of your foot being exposed.

Calluses tend to develop on parts of the body that are subjected to constant friction, so they may also end up developing on the areas where the sandals keep rubbing your skin.

  • They can cause overheating and sweating – Although the upper of a jelly sandal has straps that are well-spaced to allow air into the footwear and consequently keep your feet cool, you might still have to deal with sweaty feet. This is because PVC plastic is not very breathable and gets heated very easily. As a result, your feet will end up getting overheated and sweaty. The buildup of sweat will attract odor-inducing bacteria which will leave you with stinky feet.
  • They can cause you to lose balance – As previously mentioned, your feet tend to sweat quite easily in jelly sandals. When the sweat sits and pools in the sandals, it will inevitably make them very slippery, whether they are heeled or flat. This could alter the way you take your strides and consequently increase the risk of you slipping and even falling as you walk, which could lead to getting injured.
  • Your feet could get poked – Due to the design of the jelly sandal, your feet are partially exposed. The spaces between the straps can easily let in pebbles, glass, splinters, nails, and other sharp objects on your pathway into the sandals. As a result, you may end up with nail injuries, bruised toes, injuries on the bottom part of your foot, and general harm to the areas of your foot that are exposed.
  • Your feet get easily dirty in them – When you wear jelly sandals, your feet are not only susceptible to pebbles and splinters but also dirt. The exposed parts will become soiled by dust very easily, so you might want to have a pack of wet wipes handy to clean them regularly.
  • The material is toxic – PVC plastic is a known toxic material that cannot be broken down naturally. Therefore, environmental issues are a major concern for you, jelly sandals may not be what you are looking for.

Final thoughts

The jelly sandal fad seems like it is always going to pop up every couple of years considering that they have been around for quite a while now, and with good reason – they come in a variety of designs, they are easy to clean, they are cheap, and they are quite easy to wear. However, it is not all good news with this style of footwear as they can cause blisters, overheating and sweating, and even expose your feet to sharp objects.

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